Skip to main content
Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit

Britishness Reconsidered: Interplay Between Immigration and Nationality Legislation and Policymaking in Twenty-first Century Britain


This paper aims to clarify the dynamic interplay between immigration and nationality legislation and policymaking in post-imperial and pre-Brexit Britain. In 1981 and 2002, the years on which this paper focuses, three pieces of legislation were enacted marking watershed moments for British policy regarding immigration and nationality. The British Nationality Act of 1981 established 'British citizenship' in the statute book. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002 claimed to introduce new meaning and value to the acquisition of British citizenship by introducing a citizenship test and pledge. Furthermore, the British Overseas Territories Act of 2002 expanded the geographic scope of British citizenship by, in theory, providing citizenship to all those eligible in the existing dependent territories. Debates on the meaning of Britishness and the political projects linking immigration and nationality legislation to it, continue today in government, academia, and the media, all of whom are competing to have a tangible impact on policy. This paper addresses two questions. First, how can we account for the protracted nature of the debate on Britishness, and government efforts to enact immigration and nationality legislation based upon it? Second, if the meaning of Britishness has evolved over time, how has it been shaped by the course of these ongoing political debates?


Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History


Article meta

Country / region covered

Year of Publication

Source type